Letter to My Dear Friend

What a whirlwind I’ve been caught up in down here in the valley of the sun!!  I want to thank you and ** for your kindness in helping with references

I got a call from my 87 year-old Gramma three weeks ago today.  She lives less than a block away from my Mother and had been looking out for her, taking her to Doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, doing her best to help her around the house and dealing with her ever-changing personality and rapidly deteriorating cognitive abilities.  I could tell from the tone of her voice that there was a crisis. Things had gone downhill. It was dawning on her more readily that Mom was not ok, culminating in a “sun-downer’s” trip to the local dollar store, a rapid series of delusional phone calls, and a midnight fall. She didn’t ask me to come, but she said, “I just don’t know what to do, Rhonda. I simply cannot put up with her any longer.”  That was on a Thursday.  On Saturday I made the hour and a half trip here from my long-awaited for, quiet little apartment with my sweet, happy little dog Winnie and a haphazardly packed suitcaseful of mismatched clothing and toiletries (and my meds!)  A kind, elderly neighbor, who had become a dear friend, willingly offered to bring me here when she heard of my personal crisis.  She rarely even leaves her home, let alone the remote area where I had been living.

She was a wreck when I got here, **. The house was no more of a shambles than usual. I know my prideful Mother; she would sooner refuse to open the door rather than be thought of poorly; the floors were clean and she had straightened her piles of clutter.  She was, however clothed in her standard attire: bra-less in a worn white t-shirt and pajama pants, however she had thrown an unbuttoned dress shirt over the top of it in an effort to cover her breasts.  She greeted us with charm and grace, welcoming my friend (who’s first name is the very same as hers,) with open arms and hospitality.

Granmma told me several days later that she had grown more and more aware, in recent months, of Mom’s decline, and “covering” of it, with futile stories and actions.  I was the last person’s eyes she could pull the wool over; it was immediately apparent that she was fully into the next stage of her disease.  She needs me here, permanently.  It got real, fast.

March 3…

So, over a week has gone by since I started this; I could have sworn it had been longer.  The days fly, but each one also seems like an eternity, at times.  This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, **.  I’m glad I didn’t finish and send this on the day I started to write to you.  Things have gone from black to blue (well, for the most part, and only be the grace of God and by way of his power and will, not mine.)  You do know that I came here in 2012 to do just what I’m doing now: care for her because her mind was suffering from the effects of this insidious disorder.  I was so ill-equipped, Tammy, so spiritually and physically and psychologically ill.  I was incapable of living from minute to minute, let alone caring for my strong-willed, fiercely independent, increasingly angry and defiant mother, who was damned if she was going to relinquish one iota of control to her surly, depressed, but ultimately well-meaning and loving daughter.  There were good moments, laughter and camaraderie, but we mostly fought tooth and nail about her meds, her dietary habits, housekeeping and shared finances.  I was so sick and misled by false religion, a dance I kept dancing and holding under her nose constantly, “witnessing” to her about HER false religion, Lutheranism.  I traipsed off to the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall for Bible study and meetings several times a week, then smoked cigarettes and drank in secret at home.  I had a sexual affair with the 26 year-old virgin son of the next door neighbor.  I slept off entire days of black depression in Mom’s bedroom, angering her to no end, not contributing to the household chores.  There were days when I would do nothing but housework, however, and be as bright as a lightning bug, doing chores for my Gramma, who lives right down the street, showing up for gatherings with my Mom’s sister’s family, who lives here nearby.  There is no love lost between them and myself, but I did it for my Gramma and to keep the peace for Mom.

The stress of what I was doing to myself, the battles with Mom, the sick relationship with the young neighbor and the pressure at the Kingdom Hall to go out in service (knocking on doors, it was causing me tremendous anxiety and physical stress from the heat and sun,) and the JW elders  told me I could not be baptized unless I was in service for 6 months, all of these things led to my utter devastation.  (In retrospect, the fact that I was never baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was an act of providence.)  One day, on a Wednesday, Mom went out for groceries, as I lay, wracked with self-pity with a blanket over my head.  I had just gone through a grueling medication change, put on a heavy tranquilizer called Seroquel.  **, who still lives next door and is talking to me again after almost two years of silence, told me the other day that I was akin to a zombie at that time.  He said that I told him one day to slow down while we were walking, and that that was the only time anyone had ever told HIM to slow down (he is a VERY easy going, mellow guy.)  So, Mom gets home from the grocery store and charges into the bedroom carrying two handfuls of groceries and hollers, “Why didn’t you come out to the car to help me with the groceries?”  I hadn’t even heard her pull up.  She had expected me to watch for her, this woman who took forever to wander through the aisles choosing her items, each time she went shopping.  I shot out of bed and went to the car, carrying in what was left.

Oh, it bears mentioning at this point that the previous day, after studying the Bible (with the aid of a man-inspired supplemental publication called “What Does The Bible Teach?”,) I went directly to the bar and got blackout drunk.  I rear-ended a car carrying 2 innocent people and got my 4th DUI within 7 years, a felony in Arizona: well, probably in any US state.  I came to, handcuffed to a brick wall in Peoria, a town neighboring Sun City, where I was living with Mom and live again with her now.  The police released me after my arrest and sent me home in a taxi cab, which I paid for with my debit card.  I received a ticket for DUI and my car was towed to a scrap yard.  I let it default to an abandoned title and have not been taken to court by Maricopa county or the state of Arizona.  They have seven years to prosecute me for my crime, of which four and a half remain.  Sloppy record keeping?  God’s grace?  We cannot begin to guess, and I have stopped living like the shoe will drop any moment, but it nags sometimes.  Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. (George Santayana)  I am not proud of the poor decisions I have made, **.  I have wronged others and torn down my character, but God forgives me and does not see me as a failure.  It’s time to forgive myself and do the right thing.  I will not drink and drive, not today.  I may never have a license again. It would cost thousands and thousands of dollars to obtain one, if I ever even had that kind of money in the first place.  I digress.

So, when I had the groceries put away, I went back into the bedroom and took 35 of Mom’s blood pressure lowering tablets and 90 Ativan, a benzodiazapene.  I vaguely remember calling **, the young man who I had that unfortunate entanglement with, who I had foolishly agreed to share a cell phone account with.  He had become the bain of my financial existence, never paying his bill on time, evading my phone calls, just being a royal pain.  I called after I took the pills to tell him to please take care of the account on his own, that I would not be dealing with it anymore.  He said Rhonda, what’s going on?  I guess he could hear in my voice that something was off.  He said what is ** phone number?  I gave it to him.  That was the last thing I remember until coming hazily to in a roomful of recliners with a very rude, loud mouthed young woman who wouldn’t let me cover my face with a blanket.  I was devastated that the pills hadn’t worked.  I would remain hospitalized for the next week.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, in addition to my manic depression, ADHD, alcoholism, and general condition of restlessness, irritability and constant feeling of discontent.  After my stay in the psychiatric facility, during which I was court ordered to seek psychiatric care for one year, I moved out of Mom’s place and in with ** and her husband.  I was deeply depressed and beyond shameful that I had failed my Mother.  I also found out at that time that ** (my ex husband of 10 years,) had gotten engaged.  He married several months later, to a beautiful woman, in Hawaii.  I found this out by looking at his Facebook page.  I was wrecked, Tammy, completely.  I texted him furiously, obsessively.  For some reason he let me.  He never blocked me or ignored me.  I was a madwoman.  I was in so much pain but I NEVER TURNED TO GOD.  I made a male friend online through a thought exchange website called Soul Pancake, a site started by an anti theist celebrity, a place teeming with Christian haters.  I began a sexual flirtation with him, exchanging nude photos, emailing back and forth every day, finding comfort in him instead of the True Source of comfort, the only refuge that is real.

I was made to attend an outpatient treatment program by my probation officer, as a reprimand for the DUI.  (I had been convicted of felony assault on a peace officer in 2011.)  It was at a place called TERROS, a drug and alcohol rehab center that specializes in co-occurring conditions:  addicts who also have mental illnesses and personality disorders.  We were quite a group, all over the map.  I was immediately put off, before I even started my first day, by the woman who came to pick me up.  She was a LCSW who led some of the groups and did individual counseling.  She was assigned to me but I asked to be put with someone else, because she offended me in a big way on that first trip to the facility.  You know, **, I can’t even remember what she said, but I can remember how she made me feel, and it wasn’t good.  It wasn’t right, the way she treated me, but the man they assigned me to was good; he was compassionate and patient and he treated me with respect.  To this day he is my friend and cheerleader.  He is a recovered alcoholic and a member of AA.  If it weren’t for him I would have seen my time at TERROS as a sentence, not the pleasure and healing experience that I see it as having been.  I made some friends there and remember it as one of the more positive therapies I have gone through.

But hindsight is indeed 20/20.  I spent the next two years at the races.  I drank some more, played around with pot and meth but mostly men.  I got my own place and shortly thereafter tried to off myself again.  ** didn’t hear from me for 18 hours and came to my apartment.  She found the door locked and called the police to break in.  They found me out cold on the floor, pills strewn everywhere, booze on the countertop, my knees and elbows bloody from having crawled around on the hardwood floor after I had taken the pills.  I was in a coma for 3 solid days, hospitalized for 6 more after I was stabilized, then they took me to an urgent care psych facility for 3, then to the looniest loony bin I have ever been locked into.  It was straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Wow.  It was totally surreal.  I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I had applied for and been instantly approved for VA benefits (medical, no monthly check,) the year before, by way of the encouragement of a student in her clinical rotation at TERROS.  She was a Navy reservist.  I had been a blind fool all those years, **.  I thought “no service connection” meant that I wasn’t entitled to healthcare from the VA.  The AF had sent me away without telling me that I had a right to this benefit.  They threw me to the wolves.  But it really was my responsibility.  I was just too sick and young and ignorant to be my own advocate.  I went to the VA hospital and spent a couple of weeks there, afraid I was going to attempt suicide.  That was in between the 2012 attempt and the one in my apartment in 2013, the one I just described.  I am being confusing.

The day I was discharged from that den of insanity I went to after being in the coma, I had an appointment at the VA to be screened for a group that they offer: a forward-thinking, mindfulness-centered program called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.  l made it just in time, thanks to the Behavioral Health facility that I had been receiving my court-ordered psychiatric care and free medication from after my discharge from place where was hospitalized after my 2012 suicide attempt.  I was accepted to the program and attended for the next year.  I achieved a tenuous level of stability but still relied on substances and young men for comfort.  I drifted away from any semblance of a personal relationship with God.  I ignored the principles I had learned and had once relied upon through my involvement with AA.  I kept in close contact with Mom but very little with any other family or friends except my brother, occasionally, who was in and out of sobriety and diagnosed, a couple of years ago, with schizophrenia.

Last year I met a man online: a married, younger man with a precious little girl, who lives in Vermont.  We fell deeply in love. He loves God and grew up having a relationship with Him.  We knew we were sinning from the beginning but our hearts hardened to it more as we fell more deeply.  We tried to end it four times, and kept going back.  He came to see me three times.  On the day he left the last time, the very same day we thought would be the last time we were to speak, I got the call from Gramma.  My heart was torn apart over this man and I had my Mother, in crisis, to rescue and my Grandmother to relieve of her burden.  I had my little dog to look after.  Just days after I arrived here, ** logged into my email from Vermont, wanting to have closeness with me in some way, if only through reading the thousands of emails and photos we had exchanged over the past months.  He had done some work on my computer while he was here for his last visit and remembered my password.  He looked through my sent mails and discovered that I had been online talking to other men while professing my love to him.  He texted me and asked if he should get tested for diseases.  I told him that person wasn’t me, that it was my sickness, that my love for him was real, that I meant every word.  He said there was no resolution for us.  Then his heart changed.  He forgave me.  He urged me to confess all, to be honest for once in my life, and I did, reluctantly and in increments.  It brought me to a place of intense suffering, the perfect condition to be in for God to begin a mighty work in us.  For the next two weeks we shared forgiveness and healing and we poured it all out to God and shared our hopes for each other: his desire to heal his marriage and to show his daughter what a relationship with God looks like, to grow back to Christ.  I shared my desire to live for Christ and to fulfill the spiritual need that I have been aware of since I was 17 years old.  We knew we had to do what was right, which is not always easy.  We said goodbye, we poured it all out, like the woman with the precious oil at the passover feast who anointed Jesus’ head.  We gave up our most precious possession:  each other.  We made a sacrifice to Christ, the way he did for us.

I found an amazing, humble and loving body of Christ, led by a really great pastor.  ** found them online from Vermont, actually, and Pastor called me on the phone. He called a couple who lives nearby and they take me to church every Sunday and with them every time the doors are open.  They even offer to do things for me whenever I ask, and they tell me with sincerity that they are honored to do so.  They take Mom along, too.  The church prays for her salvation.  They pray for ** (the man I had to let go, back to his family and to God,), too, and anyone I ask for them to pray for, and for me, too.  And I pray too, for anyone and everyone, and for the church.  Prayer is so powerful.  God is so amazing, **.  He works in my life, so powerfully and in such amazing ways.  I can only imagine what he has in store for me.  If I can just show him just a tiny bit of the love and obedience that he shows me, I will be so happy and grateful.

Mom is 100% better,   She is more lucid, she’s lost weight.  We were battling it out hourly for the first few weeks.  Now we are happy and smiling almost all day every day.  Gramma is delighted and has peace, although she is in pain most of the time with her osteoarthiritis,  She works herself too hard, helping her neighbors and her church and feeding the birds and puttering around her house.  She takes us to appointments and to the store, too, and answers to Mom’s sister, **, a real mini-force to be reckoned with, much like my sister.  ** and her husband brought Gramma down here about 13 years ago, after my Grampa died.  They bought her place and pay a lot of her bills, so ** wears the pants.  She is good at heart but so controlling and judgmental.  Like my sister, bless her flat head.  ** has never stopped forming her opinion of me  based on my past poor decisions and irresponsible actions, but she is coming around, little by slowly.  I think she is impressed by the work I am doing with Mom,  One day we had a very heated discussion on the phone (we mostly text, ** is not much on communication,) and she said some very hurtful things, throwing the past into my face.  Later she texted me an APOLOGY and THANKED ME for what I’m doing for Mom.  The amazing thing:  I didn’t get puffed up with pride or vindication, I was just grateful.

So now, that I’ve typed your eyeballs off, I want to thank you, and make amends.  Thank you thank you a million times for the nuggets of love and wisdom, for the laughs and friendship and awesome cake.  For making me a part of your ministry and your family.  I love you **.  Please forgive my immaturity and my thoughtlessness.  My careless words and actions.  And rest assured I will make mistakes but I will be more cautious with your beautiful heart,  You are one of a kind.  Say Hi to **, give him my love and be thee well.

Rhonda

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